You know the wonderful place that this text has in the wonderful epistle to the Romans. It stands here at the end of the seventh chapter as the gateway into the eighth. In the first sixteen verses of the eighth chapter the name of the Holy Spirit is found sixteen times; you have there the description and promise of the life that a child of God can live in the power of the Holy Ghost. This begins in the second verse: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” From that Paul goes on to speak of the great privileges of the child of God, who is to be led by the Spirit of God. The gateway into all this is in the twenty-fourth verse of the seventh chapter:
“O wretched man that I am!”
There you have the words of a man who has come to the end of himself. He has in the previous verses described how he had struggled and wrestled in his own power to obey the holy law of God, and had failed. But in answer to his own question he now finds the true answer and cries out: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” From that he goes on to speak of what that deliverance is that he has found.
I want from these words to describe the path by which a man can be led out of the spirit of bondage into the spirit of liberty. You know how distinctly it is said: “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear.” We are continually warned that this is the great danger of the Christian life, to go again into bondage; and I want to describe the path by which a man can get out of bondage into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Rather, I want to describe the man himself.
First, these words are the language of a regenerate man; second, of an impotent man; third, of a wretched man; and fourth, of a man on the borders of complete liberty.
In the first place, then, we have here
THE WORDS OF A REGENERATE MAN
You know how much evidence there is of that from the fourteenth verse of the chapter on to the twenty-third. “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me”: that is the language of a regenerate man, a man who knows that his heart and nature have been renewed, and that sin is now a power in him that is not himself. “I delight in the law of the Lord after the inward man”: that again is the language of a regenerate man. He dares to say when he does evil: “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” It is of great importance to understand this.
In the first two great sections of the epistle, Paul deals with justification and sanctification. In dealing with justification, he lays the foundation of the doctrine in the teaching about sin, not in the singular, “sin,” but in the plural, “sins”—the actual transgressions. In the second part of the fifth chapter he begins to deal with sin, not as actual transgression, but as a power. Just imagine what a loss it would have been to us if we had not this second half of the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, if Paul had omitted in his teaching this vital question of the sinfulness of the believer. We should have missed the question we all want answered as to sin in the believer. What is the answer? The regenerate man is one in whom the will has been renewed, and who can say: “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.”
But secondly: The regenerate man is also
AN IMPOTENT MAN
Here is the great mistake made by many Christian people. They think that when there is a renewed will it is enough; but that is not the case. This regenerate man tells us: “I will to do what is good, but the power to perform I find not.” How often people tell us that if you set yourself determinedly you can perform what you will. But this man was as determined as any man can be, and yet he made the confession: “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not.”
But, you ask, how is it God makes a regenerate man utter such a confession, with a right will, with a heart that longs to do good, and longs to do its very utmost to love God?
Let us look at this question. What has God given us our will for? Had the angels who fell, in their own will, the strength to stand? Verily, no. The will of the creature is nothing but an empty vessel in which the power of God is to be made manifest. The creature must seek in God all that it is to be. You have it in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, and you have it here also, that God’s work is to work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Here is a man who appears to say: “God has not worked to do in me.” But we are taught that God works both to will and to do. How is the apparent contradiction to be reconciled?
You will find that in this passage (Rom. 7:6–25) the name of the Holy Spirit does not occur once, nor does the name of Christ occur. The man is wrestling and struggling to fulfil God’s law. In the chapter, instead of the Holy Spirit and of Christ, the law is mentioned nearly twenty times. It shows a believer doing his very best to obey the law of God with his regenerate will. Not only this; but you will find the little words, “I,” “me,” “my,” occur more than forty times. It is the regenerate “I” in its impotence seeking to obey the law without being filled with the Spirit. This is the experience of almost every saint. After conversion a man begins to do his best, and he fails; but if we are brought into the full light we need fail no longer. Nor need we fail at all if we have received the Spirit in His fulness at conversion.
God allows that failure that the regenerate man should be taught his own utter impotence. It is in the course of this struggle that there comes to us this sense of our utter sinfulness. It is God’s way of dealing with us. He allows that man to strive to fulfil the law that, as he strives and wrestles, he may be brought to this: “I am a regenerate child of God, but I am utterly helpless to obey His law.” See what strong words are used all through the chapter to describe this condition: “I am carnal, sold under sin”; “I see another law in my members bringing me into captivity”; and last of all, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” This believer who bows here in deep contrition is utterly unable to obey the law of God.
Murray, Andrew. 1897. Absolute Surrender. New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.
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